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MassWildlife gives answers to the most frequently asked hunting-related questions.
Sunday hunting is prohibited by a Statute, often referred to as a General Law. Click here to view the Statute.
Statute vs. Regulations
The only way to change a Statute is for a bill to pass in the legislature or for a ballot measure to pass. The bill could either address the issue through the bill language or have language that gives MassWildlife the authority to make regulations. To learn more about any current hunting-related legislation you can contact your local representative or senator.
The Fisheries and Wildlife Board has the authority to change hunting Regulations, which are referred to as CMRs (Code of Massachusetts Regulations) but cannot approve regulations which contradict Statutes.
The law prohibiting general use of crossbows for hunting is a Statute. Click here to view the Statute. A bill to expand the eligibility of those that can use a crossbow is introduced almost every year, but has yet to pass.
Moose hunting is prohibited by a Statute. Click here to view the Statute.
Discharge setbacks are defined by a Statute. Click here to view the Statute. A bill to reduce setbacks is introduced almost every year (but so is a bill to expand setbacks to 1,000 feet).
For the fastest response, call the 24/7 Environmental Police Dispatch number 1-800-632-8075 to report a violation. You can also report violations through their website.
It could be any combination of these factors. This is a common concern from hunters in the western part of the state who remember seeing more deer in the past.
Forest age and structure has changed over the past 40 years in Massachusetts, such that some areas that once supported large numbers of deer are no longer able to do so. Forests in the state, and especially in the west, have matured due to lack of cutting. This change in structure affects species (ruffed grouse, deer, moose, cottontails, many songbirds, etc.) that require a diversity of forest ages, including young forests, to thrive. For example, a large tract of mature forest can only healthily support about 10-15 deer per square mile. If your property lacks quality year-round food and cover, then deer are not likely to frequent your property very often.
The number of hunters on the ground can also affect the number of deer being seen during hunting season. Many western MA hunters have noted a decrease in the number of hunters in the woods during the shotgun season. In general, the more hunters there are moving deer, the more deer will be seen. If everyone is waiting in tree stands during the shotgun season, the deer can simply stay bedded all day.
They are called cutaneous fibromas (commonly referred to as deer warts), which are caused by a virus. The virus only affects the deer’s skin and poses no known threat to people or domestic animals. Transmission is thought to occur through biting insects and/or possibly by direct contact with contaminated materials that might scratch the skin. While unattractive, these fibromas are only on the skin surface and only cause concern to a deer when they interfere with sight, respiration, eating or walking, or lead to infection. While fibromas themselves are harmless, hunters should be alert for signs of secondary infection (strange color or odor) while processing meat.
One of the biggest challenges for managing deer in eastern MA is the lack of access for hunters. Many of the towns within I-495 have by-laws that restrict hunting such as requiring written permission or not allowing discharge of firearms. Further, much of the forested land in these towns is closed to hunting or it is near impossible to get permission from all the homes within 500 feet to hunt it. It may be very difficult and time consuming to find the huntable areas and get the necessary permission, but all that effort may land you a very productive spot and help to reduce densities of deer in those areas. Many towns are starting to realize how important hunting is for controlling deer, turkey, and other wildlife and are starting to open town owned lands for hunting. MassWildlife does not have authority over whether landowners (DCR, town, land trust, private, etc.) allow access or hunting on their property or not. However, we are available to speak with landowners to provide information about hunting and wildlife issues. The town clerk for each town should be able to provide you with that town’s written bylaws.
The rut is the common term to describe the breeding season of deer. Changes in the daily length of daylight serve as the trigger for hormone changes in deer that bring on breeding and the behaviors seen during the rut. Deer naturally become less active during daylight hours in the early fall, especially when the days are warm because they now have a winter coat. Also, bucks are storing up energy to use during the rut. However, there can be a lot of daylight deer activity during the weeks leading up to and during the rut as bucks search for receptive does. The peak of breeding typically occurs between the 1st – 3rd weeks of November in Massachusetts, but rutting behavior can be seen before and after this period.
We allow online checking for archery and primitive seasons because we don’t need to collect biological data during those times at checkstations. We need to collect biological data in a way that balances our staff’s time and allows for enough data to be collected in each zone. The deer harvest during the shotgun season provides a good “snapshot” of the harvest for biological data (e.g., we can’t combine weights from October with weights from December) and best balances our staff time (we send out staff to over 40 checkstations statewide).
MassWildlife does not change the season each year. It depends on the date of Thanksgiving. (Click to see CMR 3.02, go to section 4b)
The coyote season was extended several years ago to provide extended hunting opportunities, but maintain the timing to when the pelts have the most value, which limits waste of the resource.
Not all antlerless deer will have a fawn or fawns when you observe them in the hunting season. Most of the females 2.5 yrs and older will have fawns, but very few yearling females will have fawns (typically less than 15% will breed as fawns: puberty is related to their weight). Again, regardless of predators, only about half of the antlerless deer seen can even have fawns.
However, predators do take fawns. Radio collar studies in the Northeast found that predators (black bears, coyotes, and bobcats combined) take about 20-40% of the fawns each year. When predator levels dropped, other mortality (vehicle collisions, natural mortality, etc) tended to make up for it. Regardless of high or low predator levels, about 40-50% of the fawns will not survive each year. In these studies, even though almost half the fawns died, the deer populations were still growing. Why? Because the survival of reproductive females is very high (typically over 90%, even with regulated hunting), and these females continue to produce fawns year after year. Also, the fact that fawns and yearlings show up in the harvest indicates that fawns are surviving and reaching older ages.